South Bay | 99 Essential Restaurants 2015

South Bay

Coni’Seafood

photo by Anne Fishbein

In some circles, the price of a ride from LAX is a meal at Coni’Seafood, and whether you’re giving the ride or bumming one, everyone wins. Because here in this unassuming gray building on the great Imperial Highway, you have chef Sergio Peñuelas’ famed Sinaloa-style pescado zarandeado, an enormous snook filleted, marinated and grilled until varnished bronze. And while the hipper places in town are currently enamored with the idea of the kitchen sheet tray as serverware, this is probably the only place in town where its use actually makes sense: Short of the grill itself, there’s probably no other way to bring the snook to your table. The fish is fantastic on its own or wrapped in a tortilla. Your meal will be complete — and the traveller’s debt fully repaid — when the aguachiles and the cheesy swordfish tacos are delivered to the table. Welcome home. —Tien Nguyen

Jidaiya

photo by Amy Scattergood

The South Bay has been the home to a large population of Japanese and Japanese-Americans for decades, even more so after several of the major Japanese automakers moved their operations into the area. Thus there are more solid ramen options per square mile in the area than in most any other place in the country, with Jidaiya being among the best of them. This would be the ramen shop located in a plaza just off the 405, a place that looks like the sort of roadside restaurant that Tampopo may have had if she’d had the luxury of space. Inside, you’ll walk past a corner dedicated to old-school Japanese candies and trinkets and sit down to enjoy Jidaiya’s wonderful tonkotsu and miso ramen; its tsukemen is stellar, too. And if you order the UFO Dumplings out of sheer curiosity, you will be rewarded with half a dozen gyoza, pan-fried together so they fuse and form a crust of sorts, then flipped over onto a plate as you might a pineapple upside-down cake. Reasonable minds and FBI agents may differ on whether this looks like a UFO. That it’s pretty awesome, though, is a fact upon which we all can agree. —Tien Nguyen

Little Sister

photo by Anne Fishbein

Being the hippest restaurant in Manhattan Beach is a hard row to hoe. It’s perhaps a steep learning curve for customers to go from casual upscale beach dining — the norm in this ’hood — to a dimly lit room with a profane hip-hop soundtrack. But Little Sister has something to prove to Manhattan Beach, and in the year and a half since opening, it’s become as much a staple of this upscale beach strip as the white wine–and-lobster joints. You’ll sit under the back-wall mural of a machine gun spewing vivid butterflies and eat Vietnamese crepes and Myanmar curries and Sichuan noodles and Balinese meatballs. Chef Tin Vuong, who is in the midst of building a small empire in the South Bay and beyond, seems to be having a lot of fun with this particular project. This is not cute American food with Asian accents — there’s a purity of intention that shines through. Dishes are boldly spicy where appropriate, unapologetically funky, bursting with flavor. Little Sister has something to teach Manhattan Beach about attitude and loud rap music and bold, very good Southeast Asian small plates, and Manhattan Beach is lapping it up.—Besha Rodell

Pann's

photo by Anne Fishbein

If you wanted to design the quintessential L.A. greasy spoon — as romanticized by Quentin Tarantino — the half-century-old Pann’s is pretty much a spot-on blueprint (many customers mistakenly credit it as the diner from Pulp Fiction). No matter your thoughts on Googie architecture, high-test black coffee or gray-haired waitresses, however, it’s hard to overlook the appeal of the crispy waffles and golden brown chicken wings that seem to land at every table. To their credit, however, the short-order cooks behind the ticket-strewn pass are equally proficient at gooey patty melts, Cobb salads or gravy-smothered pot roast. Is there any better way to gird your rumbling stomach before a long-haul flight out of LAX? —Garrett Snyder